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50 Essential Feminist Films

It’s no secret that the numbers surrounding women in cinema are dismal. Melissa Silverstein’s Women and Hollywood recently reported that only 74 of the 271 people invited to join the Academy of Motion Arts and Sciences this year were women. We also know that for every 15 or so male directors, there is just one female director. At the same time, filmmakers of all genders continue to explore new representations of women in cinema. We thought it was time to revisit some essential feminist films (a few classics and several, perhaps, unexpected picks) that deconstruct gender identity, explore issues pertinent to women and their history, and challenge the patriarchy. These films, directed by women and men, have broadened the scope of female representation in cinema.

BK

50. The Punk Singer, Sini Anderson

An intimate portrait of feminist art-punk activist icon Kathleen Hanna, the frontwoman of Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, and The Julie Ruin, and one of the founders of the riot grrrl movement of the 1990s. Interviews from Kim Gordon, Joan Jett, and other cultural compatriots build the lineage of feminism — striking a compelling balance “between history and personality.”

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30 comments
radegunde
radegunde

This list must also include the 2010 Korean film Poetry http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poetry_%28film%29 -- 100% on Rotten Tomatoes for those who care. And I'd add Swept Away in addition to Prince Mononoke; as well as Waiting For the Moon (1987), an interpretation of the lives of Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas.


AprilDe
AprilDe

Super list :)

I would add these gems:

-Norma Rae, dir. Martin Ritt (USA, 1979)

-Pumzi, dir. Wanuri Kahiu (Kenya, 2009)

-Cleopatra Jones, dir. Jack Starrat (USA, 1973)

-Safe, dir. Todd Haynes (USA, 1995) - someone already posted this one in the comments but it's brilliant enuff to be listed at least twice.

-anything by Lisa Cholodenko, but how 'bout High Art (USA, 1998)

-Bhaji on the Beach, dir. Gurinder Chadha (Britain, 1993)

-Badlands, dir. Terrence Malick (USA, 1973) - for the phenomenal Sissy Spacek, of course

-Lovely and Amazing, dir. Nicole Holofcener (USA, 2001)

-Pariah, dir. Dee Rees (USA, 2011)

-Vagabond, dir. Agnes Varda (France, 1985)

-Holy Smoke! dir. Jane Campion (Australia, 1999)

-But I'm a Cheerleader, dir. Jamie Babbit (USA, 1999)

-We Need to Talk About Kevin, dir. Lynne Ramsay (Britain, 2011)

-The Runaways, dir. Floria Sigismondi (USA, 2010)

-Temple Grandin, dir. Mick Jackson (USA, 2010)

-Pan's Labyrinth, dir. Guillermo del Toro (Mexico-Spain, 2006)

-Persepolis, dir. Marjane Satrapi with Vincent Paronnaud (France-USA, 2007)

Ellen
Ellen

Where is "The colour purple"? Totally missing :)

Otherwise good list.

TomásRosado
TomásRosado

I would've included Claude Chabrol's  "Une affaire de femmes" (Story of Women). The character played by Isabelle Huppert may have not had feminist intentions, but her actions were feminist by default, in my opinion.

cristina
cristina

So in other words for a film to be feminist it should mostly (excepting of course the very fab choices of "9 to 5", "I Heard the Mermaids Singing" and a few others) be: lugubrious, opaque, somewhat pretentious...and ultimately (and I've seen most of these) just kind of non-entertaining.  Okay, check. Perhaps you should go back and watch Preston Sturge's "Sullivan's Travels" and take a point from the "O Brother Where Art Thou" film-within-a-film parody. Very well-meaning and high-minded, but ultimately its intended audience hated it.

I've considered myself a feminist from the age of 14 and you know what? Feminism doesn't have to be cloaked in pomo-academo-speak to be powerful.


That said, I LOVE Dogfight and recommend it whenever I'm asked about my favorite strong female characters.



MaryCormier
MaryCormier

I don't know what I like, but I do know art.  Did anybody else love Shirley Valentine?

DennisDoros
DennisDoros

Also add Lotte Reiniger's THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED, Jane Campion's TWO FRIENDS, Shirley Clarke's BULLFIGHT or at least one film by her, films by Lois Weber, Wanda Jakubowska's THE LAST STAGE, Barbara Loden's WANDA, Barbara Kopple's HARLAN COUNTY USA, Kathleen Collins' LOSING GROUND, Eleanor Antin's THE MAN WITHOUT A WORLD.

Brian Kerk
Brian Kerk

Wadjda

The Descent

Linda Linda Linda

JoeyLee
JoeyLee

The Stepford Wives (70's version, of course)

Its_Rocketman
Its_Rocketman

In case anyone was wondering, four of these films are on US Netflix instant: The Punk Singer, I've Heard the Mermaids Singing, Student Nurses, 3 Women.

silverglow
silverglow

Interesting list.

Some awesomely unexpected and some questionable choices. Where's Ulrike Ottinger? What about Madame X or Joan of Arc of Mongolia? 

BlueBelly
BlueBelly

Two I would add are Su Friedrich's _Sink or Swim_ and Niki Caro's _Whale Rider_. Todd Hayne's _Safe_ might make it too. 

jeanvigo
jeanvigo

Great list!  Campion, Varda, Breillat, and Akerman  are each a feminist, binge-watching filmography in and of themselves.

I'd add: 

Jafar Panahi's "The Circle"  

Lina Wertmuller's "Love & Anarchy" 

Ousmane Sembene's "Black Girl"

Andrea Arnold's "Fish Tank"

Erick Zonca's "The Dreamlife Of Angels" - absolutely devastating.

So many more, but i have to track down some on your list!




JakeGengler
JakeGengler

Why didn't you include The Silence of the Lambs?!?

foonie1
foonie1

no matter what happened behind the scenes... can't call a bond film feminist. no buying it.

danielihumphrey
danielihumphrey

@JakeGengler Perhaps because it's considered one of the most transphobic/homophobic films ever made in Hollywood.  It was picketed by GLBT rights groups at the Oscars that year, and while a small number of feminist film critics, like B. Ruby Rich, have praised it, many feminists/GLBT critics find it really damnable.  

ClementineLadypants
ClementineLadypants

@danielihumphrey @JakeGengler


"Silence" is not transphobic. It is deeply, deeply misunderstood as such, but it is not transphobic in the slightest.

It is said, and at times implied, that the character Buffalo Bill is not authentically transgendered. Hannibal Lecter states, "Billy is not a real transsexual, although he thinks he is..."
The pathology of Buffalo Bill was a composite of several serial killers, Ed Gein and Ted Bundy being the most obvious of the lot.
Buffalo Bill's real pathology is that he is primarily a psychopath. He does have an identity disorder, but it's not solely linked to gender or sexuality. At one point, and I believe this is in the book if I remember correctly, it is said he joined a Nazi group. In the film, they give a little nod to this fact by displaying his swastika patterned bedsheets. This is a man who has *no* identity, but is trying desperately to find one in order to justify killing.
In sum, Buffalo Bill's strongest urges are to kill, not to change his gender.

The second reason "Silence" is misunderstood as transphobic is this: the genre it occupies is commonly referred to as Horror Noir. Traditionally, noir used sexuality to demonstrate dysfunction. The promiscuous woman, same-sex relationships, gender bending, etc. Obviously, we now know none of these things are dysfunctional, but in 1940's noir, sex and gender were used this way. It wasn't too explicit then because of the Hayes code, but as film evolved and noir was reimagined, the sexuality in neo-noir and contemporary noir became more explicit. These new(er) noir films use these themes as a nod to classic noir, not to be phobic or sexist. 

ClementineLadypants
ClementineLadypants

@danielihumphrey @JakeGengler As far as 'respected' scholars go, I just spent the better part of a year fine tuning my MA thesis (not on "Silence..."), pouring through endless articles published by a number of 'respected' scholars. Needless to say, I'm sick to death of scholars, critics, and theorists right now. Especially since they never, ever agree with one another, and use various trends in analysis and criticism to arrive at their conclusions. Really, it's just mental masturbation -- getting overly excited because of one scene, character, piece of writing, and then basing an entire theory on gut instinct and biased research. 

danielihumphrey
danielihumphrey

@ClementineLadypants @danielihumphrey @JakeGengler You make a good argument, Clementine, in defense of the film.  The fact remains that it is "considered" transphobic by a great many persons, including a number of film scholars and respected critics. You say it's "misunderstood to be" transphobic but that's a distinction without a difference since something like this cannot be put to rest by, say, a biopsy or a blood test.  (Please note I haven't thrown my opinion into the argument, since it's just that: my opinion.)  I did just read an interview with the director, Jonathan Demme, in SLATE (7.25.14) who admitted "directorial failing" in his presentation of Buffalo Bill, and called the furor that resulted in the GLBT communities "a wake-up call for me as a filmmaker, and as a person."  So…  

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